This interview, conducted by Jim Mitchell, originally appeared in our magazine, The Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 1 (January 2017). We hope you enjoy it!
Dr. Stafford North has been a part of Oklahoma Christian University as a teacher and administrator since 1952. Though he has stepped out of the role of full-time instructor, he is still very much involved with the university and continues to teach several classes. He has been preaching since 1948 for congregations in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Florida. Through the years, he has specialized in studies of: Evangelism, Daniel, Revelation, eschatology, church doctrine, and church leadership.
What changes have you seen in the Lord’s Church in Oklahoma over the years.
SN: I moved to Oklahoma City in 1958, when Oklahoma Christian College moved to the city from Bartlesville. Back then, there were somewhere between 10 to 15 congregations in the area, and they seemed to work well together. The church has grown a lot since then. I think that’s partly due to the influence of the university over the years. There have been a lot of students who have graduated and stayed in the area. Along with the positives, there are challenges we face. In 2003 we had 605 churches in Oklahoma with 63,581 members. That has since gone down to 566 churches, with 56,528 members. Things are changing where rural congregations have had a hard time continuing. There have also been studies indicating that not as many young people are staying with the church they grew up in. I think one of the things we need to work on is finding ways to help them stay faithful. As a whole, I think the relationship among the congregations here in Oklahoma has been positive. That’s not true everywhere else.
In terms of some of the things going on in the church generally, there are things that have developed elsewhere that have not affected us very much in Oklahoma. I counted the other day the number of churches in the states around us – OK, NM, KS, AR, TX (those states around us) – who have started using instruments. In those states, there are 36,000 churches and 36 have gone instrumental. There are two such congregations in Oklahoma, and they have not thrived with such a decision. I think that says something about Oklahoma churches wanting to be faithful to the word and it speaks well of the churches in Oklahoma. Some churches have begun to use women in more ways in worship, but I don’t know of any churches in Oklahoma where that is the case (that’s not to say that no one has done so, but that I’m not aware of any), so that trend doesn’t seem to be infiltrating Oklahoma churches either.
I think there are a lot of things that speak well of Oklahoma churches. The spirit is positive and we continue to be staying with what the Bible teaches about all of these things. I will say, though, that we don’t seem to be evangelizing as much as we ought to. There are more and more congregations who are recognizing their need to be more evangelistic and we need to do whatever we can to help them do that. That’s something at which we can all be better.
As you think over the time you’ve spent in the state, what strikes you as some of the most unusual or most humorous experiences you’ve had.
SN: Early in the history of Oklahoma Christian, back in 1955, when the college was in Bartlesville, I drove to Grove, Oklahoma to preach. It was about a 100 mile drive and I would drive over Sunday morning and drive back late Sunday night. I remember staying up late, working a musical we did titled “Songs America Sings.” It was a three act show and a big deal for the school as nearly the entire the student body (of 150 or so) was involved. After staying up late one Saturday night and driving to Grove the next morning I had, in the middle of the sermon, the kind of moment you have when you’ve been driving down the road and all of a sudden realize you’re not quite sure where you are. I had that moment during the sermon. For a moment, I didn’t know where I was and didn’t know where I was in the sermon outline. I went to sleep in my own sermon! I quickly just picked a point on the outline and started from there to finish the message. I want to be very clear that that’s the only time I’ve ever gone to sleep in my own sermon!
What makes you the most optimistic about the direction of the Lord’s church and the direction of Christian education?
SN: In the years I’ve been teaching at Oklahoma Christian, I’ve met a lot of very fine young people, who want to serve. That seems to be a characteristic of this generation and we need to capitalize on that. They go on campaigns and help with local evangelistic outreach (the Capitol Hill church of Christ is a great example of that with the medical outreach they have and the way they talk to people in line about the Gospel). The inner city work in both Oklahoma City and in Tulsa are good examples of being evangelistic in meeting the needs of others. We’ve also been blessed with a lot of great preachers here in Oklahoma throughout the years, and that has also helped strengthen the cohesion we have among the churches.